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Saturday 3 December 2016

Berkeley tragedy: 'It is the worst day of my life'.

Father of Ashley Donohoe on his loss. She is one of six victims alongside Nick Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke and Eoghan Culligan

Visitors lay flowers on a makeshift memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (L) hugs Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States, following a wreath-laying ceremony at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley
Workmen examine the damage at the scene of the balcony collapse in Berkeley, California
Two grief-stricken Irish students, who say they knew the victims, look on as sheriff’s deputies move the body of a friend who died in the Berkeley balcony collapse.
Click to see a bigger version of the graphic
Police hold up sheets as medical staff take away the bodies of the dead students at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley.
Stunned onlookers at the scene of the tragedy
Olivia Burke
Lorcán Miller
Eimear Walsh
Eoghan Culligan
Ashley Donohoe
Niccolai Schuster
The remains of the damaged balcony are removed from the 4th-story apartment building in Berkeley. Photo: Reuters

THE father of one of the young students killed when a balcony collapsed in California has spoken emotionally of his loss, describing it as "the worst day of his life"

Following the deaths of the six J1 students, with another seven injured in hospital, the families of the young victims began arriving in Berkeley last night and this morning.

The dead have been named as Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke, all 21 years old and friends from south Dublin, police confirmed.

The sixth fatality is Irish-American Ashley Donohoe (22), from California, who was with the group to celebrate the 21st birthday of Aoife Beary, who was on a summer work visa. Ashley's parents are understood to be originally from Ireland. She is understood to be a cousin of Olivia Burke.

Ashley father, George, said it was the “worst day of his life”. He described Ashley as a “fine, vibrant young woman” and said he feels deeply for the families of the other victims.

READ MORE: Grieving relatives arrive after six students die on horror balcony crash

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Eoghan, from Rathfarnham in south Dublin, has been described as a 'life-long GAA fan'. He had been a member of the Ballyboden St Enda's club since childhood and played football for its intermediate and junior teams.

Ballyboden St Enda's  also paid tribute. In a post on their website, the club said: "It is with great regret and sadness that we inform you that Ballyboden St Enda's member Eoghan Culligan was one of the six people who tragically lost their lives in Berkeley, California.

"Eoghan has been a member of Ballyboden St Enda's since childhood and was part of the Minor A Championship team that were beaten by Castleknock GAA in the county final of 2011. He continued to play football with both the Intermediate and Junior teams.  Eoghan was very popular with his team mates and this tragic news is keenly felt by all members of our Club, but especially by those players and mentors who knew him well.

"We would like to extend our deepest sympathy to his parents Gerry & Marie and to his brothers Stephen & Andrew and to all the extended Culligan family.

Berkeley has rallied around grief-stricken Irish students and victims families after what Mayor Tom Bates described as "a dark, dark day".

UCD student Eimear was working at sushi restaurant Hana Zen with her friend and housemate, Olivia Burke, who was also killed in the incident. Restaurant owner Alvin Louie said Eimear has started working at the restaurant at the beginning of June as a hostess and had so impressed her managers with her enthusiasm that she had already been promoted to waitressing. She had worked her first day as a waitress on Monday.

"They were great young kids, very enthusiastic, full of energy," he told a local newspaper, "We're all devastated."

The President of Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dr Annie Doona, said Olivia had just completed the third year of an entrepreneur and management course, and described her as "very well respected"

Olivia had gone to Canada last year, and this year decided to go to Berkeley where she was working in a restuarant and "was enjoying herself and making friends".

READ MORE: Tears, shock and devastation as students and locals unite in grief

"South county Dublin is quite a small community, and there was a group already in Berkeley who knew each other, and would have socialised over here," she added on RTE Radio One.

The former principal of St Andrews College where Lorcan Miller attended secondary school described the tragic student as one of 'those particularly special young men'.

"Lorcan was an exceptional young man, he was a student officer, he won awards nationally and internationally, he was a sportsman, an academic, he wanted to study medicine which he achieved," Arthur Godsil told Newstalk this morning.

"But, above all, he was an exceptionally pleasant young man, he had the ability to include and engage people and he had the ability to care, he had such skills in that direction."

Tragically, the trauma has not ended as at least two of the injured are in a critical condition and some of those being treated have what are regarded as life-changing injuries.

The injured students are Hannah Waters, Clodagh Cogley, Niall Murray, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin, Conor Flynn and Aoife Beary, all aged between 20 and 22.

READ MORE: Response: 'A balcony is broke, at least 10 fell' - 911 call

Not all of the dead and injured were actually on the fourth-storey balcony in the Library Gardens complex when it collapsed at 12.40am.

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Police are investigating the likelihood some of the students fell while trying to save those on the balcony as it gave way.

Four of the students died at the scene, one on the way to hospital and another passed away in hospital later in the day.

Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats described the survivors' injuries as "very serious and potentially life-threatening".

The apartment, number 405, was rented out by Eimear, Olivia and Aoife but many of those attending the gathering would have lived close by.

The victims are primarily made up of two groups of friends from the Terenure, Rathfarnham and Foxrock areas. Some are past-pupils of the well-known St Mary's Schools in Rathmines and Loreto in Foxrock.

READ MORE: 'It was just like a big earthquake', says witness on panic and terror at scene

Philip Grant, the Irish consul in San Francisco, explained to the US media last night that Ireland was a small country where "very few of us have been left untouched by this tragedy".

He said the country was "frozen in shock and disbelief" and "overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that we have received from all the communities here".

"There are very many questions we would like to know the answers to, but right at the moment what we are concentrating on finding out how everybody is, to make sure that all those who needs to know how their loved ones are, are informed," Mr Grant said.

The father of a young student who survived the 40ft fall told the Irish Independent that his daughter "just fell from the sky".

Niall Cogley said it was a "miracle" his daughter, Clodagh, was alive following the balcony collapse.

READ MORE: Student's view: We work hard and party but news of tragedy so close to us was shocking

"There are very many questions we would like to know the answers to, but right at the moment what we are concentrating on finding out how everybody is, to make sure that all those who needs to know how their loved ones are, are informed," Mr Grant said.

The father of a young student who survived the 40ft fall told the Irish Independent that his daughter "just fell from the sky".

Niall Cogley said it was a "miracle" his daughter, Clodagh, was alive following the balcony collapse.

READ MORE: Dail unites to pay tribute to students as President mourns 'tragic loss of life'

She is being treated in hospital for "a number of broken bones".

"I was speaking to her earlier," he said. "She seemed upbeat enough given what has happened to her. But I don't know how much of that is down to the medication she is on, or her putting a brave face on things for her parents."

Mr Cogley said the 21-year-old psychology student had been away for only a few weeks having finished her exams in Trinity.

"From what I understand there was a 21st, and there was a bunch of them on a balcony, either getting some air, or dancing, or whatever you do at a 21st. Then it just fell from the sky and they all ended up on the street, some fatally injured.

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Workmen examine the damage at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Six people were killed, including five young Irish citizens, and at least seven other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said.  REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

"It was a very small community of over there in Berkeley - and they were obviously sticking together.

"That is such a tragedy - and there are so many bereaved families," said Mr Cogley, who is flying to the US today. "We don't know the full extent of her injuries at the moment, we are just thankful she is alive."

Anything from 30 to 50 people were at the house party in the apartment when the tragedy struck at 12.40am.

Police have confirmed a call was received about a noise disturbance at the apartment complex just 40 minutes before the tragedy - but decided not to respond as they also received reports of a shooting in a separate area of the city at the same time.

They said officers didn't consider one call a major issue and even if they had visited the complex they would not have entered the apartment but would merely have politely requested the group to lower the volume.

READ MORE: Dry rot 'may have been cause' as 3 probes begin

The tricolour is to be flown at half mast on Government Buildings today as a mark of respect to the victims.

Last night, wreaths were laid at the site on behalf of the Irish community in the area and the Government.

Many of the parents began the heartbreaking journey to the San Francisco as soon as they heard the news yesterday morning, with the remainder expected to travel on from Dublin this afternoon.

READ MORE: 'It was a sombre scene as news reporters arrived at the hospital'

There are currently around 700 Irish students in the Bay area of San Francisco. Mr Grant said there were very few who wouldn't know someone at the tragic party.

One witness described the impact of the balcony collapse as being "like a bomb going off".

Dan Sullivan (21), a UCD student who has been in the US for just over two weeks, is living on the first floor of the apartment complex where the tragedy occurred.

"We just heard a bang in the middle of night and shouting," he said.

Mark Neville, another student from Ireland who lives in the building, said he was outside when he heard commotion.

"I saw rubble on the street, and a bunch of students crying," he said.

A number of the deceased students are understood to be have been attending UCD.

Tributes have flowed in for the students, with UCD President Andrew Deeks extending his condolences to the families..

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